US official: Iran nuclear deal not limited to decade, aspects will continue ‘indefinitely’

In telephone briefing with Israeli journalists, US official says sides working hard to reach political understandings by the end of March, but “we are not in a rush."

March 8, 2015 17:22

Satellite image shows a nuclear facility in Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Any nuclear agreement with Iran will not be limited to a decade but, rather, will contain verification and supervision elements that could last indefinitely, a senior US official said Sunday.

The official, in a telephone briefing with Israeli journalists, said that the P5+1 are trying to reach political understandings with Iran by the end of March, after which time the next three months would be spent dealing with the technical and scientific details of the agreement to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program will remain “exclusively peaceful.”

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The official said that while the sides are working hard to reach the political understandings by the end-of-March deadline, “we are not in a rush. We want the right deal, and not [to] have the pressure of time,” she said, echoing comments made a day earlier by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Indirectly addressing concerns articulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to Congress last week that the agreement will be of a limited duration, after which Iran would be able to dash to a nuclear weapon, the official said the agreement being formulated is a “longterm solution” so they “cannot get a nuclear weapon.”

She said the agreement will include “several phases” that will go on for a “long time” and place severe limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. After the initial phase of the agreement, believed to be between 10-15 years in duration, there will be other phases that are to include “intrusive monitoring and verification” to ensure that Iran would not be able to race to a nuclear bomb.

“We are not talking about 10 years, we are talking about several phases of an agreement that will go on indefinitely in some ways to ensure that we have the transparency, verification and monitoring to ensure that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful,” she said. “Our greatest concern is what they might do covertly.”

She said that the monitoring and verification mechanisms the US has in mind will be quite extensive and beyond what we have now, to ensure we have eyes on what is happening in Iran all the way through this process.

The official said that the “most difficult problem we have” is that Iran has mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

“They have learned how to do everything to produce fissile material to produce a nuclear weapon, so we cannot eliminate their knowledge,” she said. And because the knowledge cannot be erased, she added, “we have to ensure that we know everything that is going on and create great limitations on their program for a very long time.”

The American position is that contrary to a perception that Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have put forward, the idea that the whole agreement ends on the date that the first phase expires is not correct. Instead, there will be expectations on Iran and restrictions on its nuclear program – some that might be spelled out in the agreement in terms of new transparency obligations, and others that might be inherent in its being a part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The underlying premise behind this approach is to ensure that Iran’s capability and transparency are such that it will always be a year away from nuclear breakout, to ensure that the US will have the capability and ability to intervene if need be.

Netanyahu has said that from Israel’s point of view, a year is not sufficient time.

Netanyahu, at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, hinted that his speech to Congress had compelled several of the P5+1 foreign ministers to say there is no reason to reach an agreement immediately, but, rather, they should wait until the right “agreement is found.”

On Friday, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the commitments offered by Iran in the talks do not go far enough, and more work needs to be done regarding the number and quality of centrifuges Iran will be able to keep, as well as the type of verification and supervision regime to be put into place.

The senior US official, however, downplayed the differences between the US and its partners, saying that “of course” there are differences among the P5+1 countries, but that even while the “press enjoys finding differences among us,” the “unity among us is much greater than any particular technical debate we have among ourselves.”

The official also related to another of Netanyahu’s demands, one he repeated at the cabinet meeting: that a “good” agreement would link lifting sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program to Iran’s wider behavior, such as its support of terrorism and threats to annihilate Israel.

What is currently under discussion, the official said, “is an agreement around Iran’s nuclear program – that is the focus of this understanding – to ensure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, because the UN Security Council and the P5+1 believe that if it [Iran] has a nuclear weapon, then its ability to project power in the region, to deter other actors in the region, would be even worse and more problematic than today.”

But the official did not link those issues to the nuclear talks, saying there were many ways in which the US is engaging with Israel and its other partners in the region to deal with those issues.

The official said that if an agreement were indeed reached, it would keep the Iranians away from nuclear weapons much longer than a military strike, which would be able to set the program back only a fraction of the time that is being discussed in the current talks.

Likewise, she said that harsh sanctions against Iran would only drive the program “underground.”

Sanctions, she said, brought Iran to the negotiating table, but have never managed to get the Islamic Republic to halt its program. Indeed, she asserted, under the international sanctions the pace of Iran’s nuclear developments and the number of its centrifuges have only increased.

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